Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Five young men, 5th and Merchant Sts., 1947


3rd from left, Pete Lusty
2nd from left, John Smetanka
other young men unknown
courtesy Dave Lusty

Dave Lusty, AHS '72, sent me this photo of his father, Pete Lusty, and four of his buddies, posing on the west side of Merchant St. near 5th St. in 1947. Pete Lusty would have been 20 years old at the time.

John Smetanka is the only of the four other young men that Dave could identify. If you know who any of the other three are, please leave a comment or contact me.

Note the streetcar tracks on Merchant St. Street cars through Ambridge were replaced by buses in 1934, but the tracks on Merchant St. weren't covered until 1958.

On the east side of Merchant, you can see the Penn Theatre's marquee. To the theater's right: The Penn Grill restaurant and Denmark's shoe store,

The building with the clock is the Economy Bank of Ambridge which was across 5th St. at 500 Merchant.

The Penn Theatre closed in the early 1950s, and the Melody Ballroom opened in the theater's former location in September 1953. The ballroom, Penn Grill, and Denmark's were all badly damaged in a big July 1954 fire. Another massive fire damaged the businesses that occupied the former theater in February 1963: the Bride and Deb Shop on the corner, Penn Grill, and Hankins Shoe Store. 

The former Penn Theatre building was razed after the 1963 fire, replaced by a parking lot. More recently, that corner was the location of the now-closed PNC Bank in 1984

The Economy Bank building was razed in 1984. WesBanco's drive though is now located where the bank once stood. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Mikush Home Appliance Center, Ambridge's last appliance store

Mikush Home Appliance Center
811 Merchant St.
August 11, 2021
credit: P.J. Shotter

Once, in the 1950s - 1960s, the Mikush Appliance store was one of a number of stores on Ambridge's Merchant St. where a shopper could buy major appliances like washers and dryers, stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers. Some others were Kubek's, Capital, Timney's, and Kelly & Cohen. Ambridge's Sears also did a big business selling appliances. Plus some furniture stores--including Ambridge, Economy, Modern, Goorin & Harris, and Darcel's--also sold them. 

But starting in the 1950s, all of Ambridge's stores were hit hard by a series of blows: the opening of Northern Lights Shopping Center in Baden; the extension of Ohio River Blvd. from Ambridge's 8th St. to Baden, eliminating the need to drive through downtown Ambridge; and then the biggest blow of all: the collapse of the U.S. steel industry and closing of the area's plants and mills in the 1980s. The growth of big box stores in the area didn't help.

So one by one the places that sold appliances in Ambridge closed, until only one remains: Mikush Appliance. 

I believe that Mikush Appliance is now the second oldest retail store in Ambridge, with only Stangl's Bakery being older. Perhaps their longevity is related to the fact that the two stores have been family owned and operated since the businesses began.

Mikush Appliance's story
Andrew Mikush Sr.
courtesy Bob Mikush

In 1929, a Yugoslavian immigrant with a third-grade education, Andrew G. Mikush Sr. [Andrew Sr. elsewhere in this blog post], began going door-to-door selling merchandise that now seems rather unusual: appliances.

But in the days before many families owned cars, selling appliances door-to-door must have been a savvy business idea for Andrew Sr.'s employer, Milleman's, a long-time Ambridge store that sold pianos and appliances.

Andrew Sr., who had worked as a delivery man for Milleman's, turned out to be a quite successful salesman. According to his grandson, Bob Mikush, people trusted his grandfather to understand their needs, undoubtedly helped by his self-taught ability to speak the languages of many of Ambridge's immigrants including Greek, Italian, Polish, and several other Slavic languages. 

Andrew Sr. had a talent for repairing appliances too and developed a reputation not only as an honest seller, but also a skilled appliance repairman, an important skill during the depression years when many people couldn't afford to buy a new appliance when the one they owned stopped working.

In 1932, with Mr. Milleman's support, Andrew Sr. was able to open a business at 926 Duss Ave. (which many might remember as the location of J. Strock Memorials for many years). There he sold and repaired a variety of new and used appliances and their parts: washers, ironers, stoves, vacuums. And, according to his business card, he also sold radios and pianos.  

Thanks to his impressive success, Andrew Sr. was given the Maytag appliance franchise in Ambridge, making the business one of Maytag's earliest dealers. 

Andrew Mikush Sr.'s business card
926 Duss Ave.
courtesy: Bob Mikush

Andrew Sr. wanted to move his business from Duss Ave, to Merchant St., but despite the Great Depression, Merchant St. was busy, and there wasn't any available space he could lease.

Still, Andrew Sr.'s business didn't remain on Duss Ave. for long. By the late 1930s, Andrew Sr. had moved his business to 601 Melrose Ave., a block east of Merchant. While the primary reason the business thrived was probably Andrew Sr.'s reputation for personal customer service, he also seems to have had a knack for promoting special bonuses for buyers. 

Andrew Mikush
classified ad
Daily Citizen
December 3, 1937

Andrew Mikush Sr.
behind counter of store at
601 Melrose Ave.
courtesy Bob Mikush

Andrew Mikush
"All Makes of Electrical Appliances"
601 Melrose Ave.
"Minstrel Varieties" program
Ushers Club of St. Veronica's Church
April 1949
courtesy Good Samaritan Parish Archives

Although I don't know yet exactly when Mikush Appliances was finally able to move into a store on Merchant St., based on the ads above and below, the move to 818 Merchant St. was apparently sometime between April 1949 and December 1950. (I'll update this article if I find a more exact date.)

Andrew Mikush
Electric Appliances
818 Merchant St.
Holy Trinity Dedication program
December 17, 1950

Andrew Mikush Sr. posing behind business' float
for the Ambridge Golden Jubilee parade
on float, grandchildren Roberta Mikush (now Sciulli)
and Andrew "Whitey" Mikush
in front of 818 Merchant St. store
July 1955
courtesy Borough of Ambridge

Andrew Mikush Sr. in front of Mikush Maytag Appliances
818 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

Andrew Mikush Appliance ad
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

In 1962, Andrew Sr. retired and handed the store over to his son, Andrew R. Mikush Jr.

Andrew Mikush Jr.
Bridger yearbook, 1971

A January 31, 1969, Beaver County Times article about Mikush Appliance's history and award-winning service, mentioned that the business soon would be moving to a larger building, purchased the previous year. The new location, at 811 Merchant St., previously Jay's Floor Covering store, would undergo extensive remodeling before a grand opening. Mikush Appliances has done business there ever since.
Mikush family in appliance store
811 Merchant St.
credit: Beaver County Times, March 23, 1997

Caption under photo above:
The Mikush family has been in business in Ambridge since the 1930s. From left are Whitey Mikush, Bob Mikush, Andrew Mikush and Bryan Mikush.
Andrew Jr. retired in 2001. His grandson, Bryan, now owns and operates the business.

Over the years, Mikush Appliances was recognized on several occasions by Maytag for their outstanding sales and service including the Maytag Red Carpet Service Excellence Award and the Outstanding Maytag Dealer Award. Bob Mikush also was invited to speak at the National Home Appliance Center Convention--twice. Even TV's lonely Maytag Repairman visited.
The lonely Maytag Repairman (actor Gordon Jump) visits Mikush Appliances
On left: WMBA announcer Dave Justice
On right: Andrew Mikush, Jr. and Al Serak
June 14, 1996
courtesy Bob Mikush

Recently, there's been a twist to the Mikush Appliances story: Despite the signs on the business that still say "Maytag," the store stopped selling Maytag appliances a few years ago. Bob Mikush said that after Maytag was sold to Whirlpool in 2005, the quality of appliances sold under the Maytag name just wasn't up to Mikush Appliances' standards that customers expected. 

Yet, amazingly, despite the competition from today's big box stores and the development of new shopping areas like Cranberry and Robinson Township, the store still sells appliances, although the models on display aren't as numerous as they once were. Most of its business is now in repairs and selling parts. But personal customer service is still its focus.

Some other things that make Mikush Home Appliance Center special:

- The business truly has been a family business for four generations. In addition to the founder Andrew Sr., Mikush family members who have been involved in the business include: Andrew Sr.'s sons, Andrew Jr. and Steve; grandsons Andrew (Whitey) and Bob and granddaughter Roberta; and great-grandson Bryan.

Roberta Mikush Sculli provided this memory:

My mom maintained the flower container outside the store, vacuumed and kept the store clean. When we were located across the street, I remember my grandmother coming to serve lunch. It was a full lunch like they ate in Europe. They ate their main meal at lunch.  My grandfather locked the front door and we all ate together.

- Bob Mikush will repair lamps at the store.

Bob Mikush with lamps needing repair
November 25, 2015
courtesy Ambridge Area Chamber of Commerce

- The store has decades of both Maytag and Ambridge memorabilia on display.

- Bob Mikush is a wonderful source of information about Ambridge's history.

- The business has been a frequent supporter of many Ambridge events, schools, and organizations.

Friday, December 17, 2021

The new block of 4th Street: Park Road to Ohio River Blvd., 1945 - '46

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

The photo above shows the practically brand-new intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St. The photo must have been taken from the American Bridge Office building which stood southwest of the new intersection.

John Domansky IDed the small building on the southwest corner of the intersection as belonging to the gas company. But so far, I don't have any confirming information.

Here are more views of the new brick-paved intersection:

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
north side of American Bridge Office shown on upper left
American Bridge Co. plant in background, right
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
looking west toward American Bridge Co. plant
American Bridge Office building on left
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
American Bridge Park on right
American Bridge Co. plant in background
April 4, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
looking toward 400 block of Park Rd.
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

That house on the corner of Park Rd. and 4th St. is still there, as is the darker house on Park Rd. above it, only now there's another house between them. 

During the spring and summer of 1945, that new block of 4th St. had been constructed to connect Park Rd. to the new extension of Ohio River Blvd. from the Allegheny County line to Ambridge's 8th St.

Ohio River Blvd. and 4th St.
looking east from Ohio River Blvd.
American Bridge Office building on right
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Ohio River Blvd. and 4th St. 
construction on 4th St.
American Bridge Co. plant in background
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Construction of 4th St. between Park Rd. and Ohio River Blvd.
north side of American Bridge Office bldg.
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
looking west toward American Bridge plant
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

I believe that the sign to the right of the parked car says:
"Entrance at Merchant St. to American Bridge Co. and Penna. R. R. Station"

But extending 4th St. from Park Rd. to the boulevard had a legal complication: the land needed for the extension was owned by the American Bridge Co. The extension would go right through the American Bridge Park.

The legal issues involved in extending 4th St. through American Bridge's private property was nicely resolved in a "Deed of Dedication" which was memorialized as Ambridge Borough's Ordinance No. 562. Here's the beginning of the lengthy handwritten ordinance which included the signed deed:

An ordinance approving and accepting a Deed of Dedication from the American Bridge Company for the purpose of dedicating to public use that portion of Fourth Street, extended, in the said Borough of Ambridge, between Park Road and the new Pennsylvania State Highway.
In the deed, the American Bridge Co. agreed to give Ambridge Borough the legal right to the portion of 4th St. between Park Rd. and the new extension of Ohio River Blvd. For that right, Ambridge paid American Bridge Co. $1.00.

Thanks to the Borough of Ambridge's Marilyn Sheleheda for scanning Ordinance No. 562 for me. The ordinance was not only not available online, but bound in a large book with other old handwritten ordinances. Scanning that couldn't have been easy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Marketing the new town of Ambridge: Part 1: Porter Locomotive is coming! Porter Locomotive is coming! But did it?

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"The H. K. Porter Company"
"Locomotive Shops to Employ 2,000 to 3,000 Men"
Pittsburg Press,
April 18, 1906

In 1903, the American Bridge Company started building the world's largest structural steel fabricating plant along the east side of the Ohio River. The building site was on land that had once belonged to the Harmony Society, which by then, had faded away, becoming history.

In the former Harmonist village of Economy, north of the new plant, a small number of non-Harmonist businesses and employees of the Society remained. But beyond the village, there was mostly undeveloped land: fields, orchards, vineyards, and pastures, occasionally punctuated by coke ovens and oil and gas wells.

Now think of what the American Bridge Co. had to do to start a thriving industrial town from basically scratch.

Sure, the company might have no problem attracting the massive labor force needed to build, then work in, their new plant. But think of everything those workers would need. Homes, food, supplies, transportation, banks, postal service, schools, churches. And what about infrastructure? Who would build streets, sidewalks, sewers, a water system? How do you attract professionals needed to care for the sick or bury the dead?

American Bridge did pretty much what's still done today. It hired a real estate company. And that company advertised.

The Real Estate Trust Co. of Pittsburgh, which had a branch office at the corner of Park Rd. and 5th St. in Ambridge, was given the task of selling the new town of Ambridge to potential businesses, investors, and residents. Early on, the company published a multi-page sales brochure, "Ambridge, Reasons for Her Coming Greatness," with descriptions and photos of the very early stages of the building of the American Bridge plant and Ambridge's infrastructure.

In May 1904, the real estate company placed two full-page ads in the Pittsburg* Press, touting the marvels of the new "manufacturing city" of Economy. The "Ambridge" name hadn't caught on yet.

The first ad, full of hyperbole and fantastic predictions, offered a free train excursion to see "the greatest industrial and city building progress in modern times." I highly recommend reading the ad; it's not only entertaining, but offers a jaw-dropping view of the early plans for Ambridge's development. (The ad's easiest to read if you visit the digital Pittsburg Press from May 3, 1904.)

Ad for "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 23, 1904

The following day, the Press featured another full-page ad.

Ad for "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 24, 1904

This second ad still contained some of the same amazing predictions about the future Ambridge as the previous day's ad did. But I think the seconds ad's most astonishing selling point was that it featured former Harmony Society trustee, "world's famous bandmaster," John Duss, saying his "greatest achievement" was selling "miles of level plateau to capitalists." (Click here to read the ad in the digital Pittsburg Press.)

In the spring of 1906, the same real estate company started placing a series of smaller ads in the Pittsburg PressPittsburgh Post, and Pittsburgh Gazette, this time focusing not on what Ambridge was going to become, but rather on what Ambridge already was.

The exception to these ads featuring Ambridge's already-existing amenities, buildings, and infrastructure were the earliest five that I found. Those five ads announced that the famous Porter Locomotive Co., which made small industrial locomotives used in places like mills, lumberyards, and mines, had plans for a huge new plant in Ambridge.

These Porter Locomotive ads were the only ones I've found in the series that were about an industry that was yet to come to Ambridge. And the only ads to feature the same reason Ambridge was wonderful more than once. Later, Porter Locomotive's coming to Ambridge was mentioned in several subsequent ads which I plan to feature in separate posts.

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"Porter Locomotives Will Haul Money into Economy-Ambridge"
Pittsburgh Post,
April 20, 1906

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"Porter Locomotive Shops"
"Double The Capacity of The Company's Present Shops"
Pittsburg Press,
April 22, 1906

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"A Wonderful Engine"
"Economy = Ambridge"
Pittsburgh Post
April 24, 1906

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"Realty Values in Economy-Ambridge Forge Ahead"
"one of the largest locomotive works in the world will commence operations"
Pittsburgh Post
April 26, 1906

Did Porter Locomotive ever come to Ambridge?

Over many months I've looked for information about the Porter Locomotive plant in Ambridge, so highly anticipated in 1906 and '07.

To be sure, Porter Locomotive's plans to move its existing Pittsburgh plant to a new plant in Ambridge wasn't just some advertising hoopla dreamed up by the Real Estate Trust Company to sell property. Not only was there information about the planned move in several newspapers, but also, thanks to Sarah Buffington, Old Economy Village's curator, I now have a copy of a 1906 deed showing that the H. K. Porter Co. bought property, not exactly in Ambridge, but rather a bit north, in Harmony Township's Legionville.   

And yes, in 1959, the H. K. Porter Corp. purchased Ambridge's National Electric plant. But by then Porter was no longer making locomotives, and National Electric, which produced electrical products, wasn't located on the property that Porter Locomotive bought in Legionville in 1906.

It looks to me as if Porter Locomotive's Pittsburgh plant remained opened. And that Porter Locomotive may have opened additional plants in locations other than Ambridge. 

I found no information about Porter Locomotive ever building a plant, hiring workers, or producing locomotives in Legionville or Ambridge. Did any of that ever happen?

I've seen Porter Locomotive listed among Ambridge's industries in several places, but none provide more information than the name, and perhaps, mention that it was north of Ambridge. Although I checked with a couple of the writers who had said Porter Locomotive was in Ambridge, they couldn't offer me more information.

So, did Porter Locomotives ever build a plant and manufacture locomotives in or near Ambridge? I don't have the definitive answer to that yet. But right now, I'm inclined to say "no."

I do know that in 1917, Porter sold at least some of the Legionville property to the Firth Sterling Steel Co., and that Firth Sterling later sold the property to several buyers, but that's about it. One of the buyers was Spang Chalfant Co. which according to a March 21, 1939, Daily Citizen article, bought 55 acres on the flat area between the railroad and the Ohio River, previously an "old dairy farm."

There may be people who can tell me about Legionville's history during 1906 - 1917, and I know there are people who know a lot about the history of the Porter Locomotive Co. If anyone can help with additional information about what happened with the plan to move Pittsburgh's Porter Locomotive plant to Legionville, I'd be grateful.

* For a time, the Pittsburgh Press spelled its name "Pittsburg Press," the no "h" spelling dictated by the United States Board on Geographic Names. Other Pittsburgh papers kept the "h". Eventually, the Pittsburgh Press added the "h" back.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ambridge parade on First St. 1955

Ambridge Golden Jubilee's Miss Greater Ambridge, Helen Witek
National Electric float
intersection First and Merchant Sts.
background: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Patrick Escoto* let me scan some photos that belonged to his late father, Phillip "Pippy" Escote.* Among the photos were some from a parade along what I recognized as Ambridge's First St. before the the neighborhood was razed, beginning with the Marshall Alley buildings in the mid-1950s, then more extensively in the early 1970s, when the entire area was cleared for redevelopment. 

The photos didn't give the date of the parade, or identify the parade participants or the spectators.

However, I am pretty certain that the photos were of Ambridge's Golden Jubilee parade on July 2, 1955, even though I haven't been able to find photos showing the same participants in the news photos of the parade that Ambridge's Daily Citizen called "a massive spectacle."

My best clue so far that these photos are of the Golden Jubilee parade is the Miss Greater Ambridge parade float above, on which Helen Witek, who was chosen for that honor as part of Ambridge's Golden Jubilee celebration, was riding with her court.

None of the different majorette or drum major uniforms in any of the photos match the ones worn at Ambridge High School in the mid-1950s according to photos in the 1954, '55, or '56 Bridger yearbooks. But there were many many marching units in the parade. Recognize anyone?

The very long parade was staged along the 100 and 200 blocks of First St., and then north on Park Rd. But the parade officially started at the intersection of First and Merchant Sts., which once began between the 200 and 300 blocks of First St. So the lucky residents of First St. got to see the parade before those watching elsewhere in Ambridge did.

If you can provide identifying information (people, float sponsors, businesses), or memories of the parade traveling up First St., please leave a comment.

Here are the rest of the Escoto parade photos in no particular order:

All photos in this post are courtesy of Patrick Escoto.
parade traveling along the 200 block of First St.
a row of Marshall Alley buildings on right
on left: Grosdeck's Clover Farm Store, 290-292 First St.

8th St. Toppers float
 making the turn from First St. onto Merchant St.
In background:
Canteen Luncheonette, 300 First St.,
Blossom Grill 296 First St.

Motorcyclist and police cars traveling east on 200 block of First St.
in background at end of street: American Bridge Co.

1916 model car
unidentified driver and passengers
right side: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified kilted bagpipers
right side: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified Navy flagbearers
200 block First St.
far background, end of street: American Bridge Co.

Conway Airport, Ben Mauro Co. Aviation Division entry
unidentified passenger
200 block First St.
on right: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified majorettes
buildings in background: 100, 102, 104, 106 Merchant St.

Taylor's Dairy truck with unidentified clown
200 block First St.
on right: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Ambridge B.P.O. Elks float
in background: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St., 
to the right: end units of two rows of Marshall Alley buildings

Unidentified majorettes and drum major
unidentified location

CIO Local 1211 entry
making turn from 200 block First St. onto Merchant St.

Unidentified drum major and majorettes, unidentified spectators
unidentified location

Unidentified majorettes
in background: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified color guard and band
200 block First St.

Hot Tamales
representing American Bridge Co. and CIO Local 1270
200 block of First St.

Unidentified rider
Hot Tamales, American Bridge, CIO Local 1270 float
CIO Local 1270 car
on right:
Jimmy's Place, 294 First St.
Blossom Grill, 296 First St. 

Fraternal Order of Eagles 1365
200 block First St.
row of Marshall Alley homes on right

Pittsburgh Mercantile Co. float
on right:
Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified rider
background: Jimmy's Place, 294 First St.

United Polish Societies entry making turn onto Merchant
On right: Blossom Grill, 296 First St.
buildings on left: on corner: 101 Merchant St.; behind, 303 and 305 First St. 

Unidentified float and revelers 
First and Merchant Sts.
buildings in background: on corner, 100 Merchant St.; behind, 303 and 305 First St.

Unidentified revelers
First and Merchant Sts.
buildings in background: on corner 100 Merchant St.; behind, 303 and 305 First St.

* Not a typo. Patrick Escoto and his father spelled their last names differently.